A Bloodied Old Man’s Face

As a child, I was often reminded
not to stare at people
My mother said it was impolite
But I’ve always wanted to see
what was really going on in life
You need a studied look to accomplish that

I studied the heavy old man, seated
at the table next to ours
The years had taken their toll–
In ways I hate to think as I approach sixty
But what had bloodied his face–
About his nose, under both eyes?

Too old for a bar fight
His younger wife didn’t seem the bullying type
Too much damage for an off-course golf ball
Maybe a car accident, or dreaded skin disease
Observing his toddled gait
I suspected a nasty fall

The restaurant manager catered to him
Not because of his bloody face, but
because he was seen as somebody special
Likely a man of significant financial means, and
the power that goes with money
I wondered who

Public catering has always bothered me
It’s an unspoken contract
between the caterer and cateree
A show of status, a sign of weakness
A form of myopic symbiosis
An act bloodying others’ faces

I’m not sure in this case
the old man enjoyed his special attention
I saw his eyes, just once
They were hollow, rapidly emptying of life
His eyes said “don’t look at what remains of me
Or my bloodied, bruised face”
The face others recognized

I knew then my studies were over
My eyes had found what they were looking for–
the old man’s pain
What haunts us all as we grow older
Bloodies us inside and out
Draining us of our last drops of life